The topic of colorism is slowly gaining popularity, with more and more dark-skinned black women speaking up about their mistreatment in society. Although it’s fantastic that the conversation about colorism is happening more frequently, there are still a lot of problems with the way the topic is handled—particularly in the black community.
As dark-skinned black women suffer the most from colorism, it’s important that our voices begin to be heard more frequently. Therefore, I want to take the opportunity to express what myself and perhaps other dark-skinned black women wish others would understand about colorism:
1. Colorism Exists…We’re Not Making It Up
When black women speak up against colorism, we often have to deal with deflections and gas-lighting. For example, when dark-skinned Afro-Latina singer Amara La Negra spoke up about colorism on the popular radio show, The Breakfast Club, she was met with resistance from the show’s hosts. Charlamagne tha God (one of the show's hosts) even asked her whether she was sure [colorism] wasn't all just in her head, and dark-skinned black women everywhere let out a collective sigh of frustration.
There is currently an immense wealth of academic studies which prove the ways that having a darker skin tone can affect the length of your prison sentence, your chances of marriage, your academic achievements, the job opportunities available to you, and many other areas of life. Colorism is a global problem that exists in Asia, Africa, South America and other parts of the world. Skin bleaching is a billion dollar industry. What more needs to be done to prove that what dark-skinned black women are complaining about, is real? I, for one, am tired of explaining the struggles of colorism to the willfully ignorant. If you don’t know, it’s your job (not mine) to educate yourself and learn.
2. Dark-Skinned Black Women Bear The Brunt of Colorism. Period.
When discussing colorism, the conversation often shifts to the plights of lighter-skinned black women and attention is often drawn from those who bear the true brunt of colorism: dark-skinned black women. At times, you would even think that lighter-skinned black women suffer just as much darker-skinned black women, as a result of the coddling that goes on in the black community.
The truth is that while lighter-skinned black women may suffer individually from mistreatment at the hands of jealous darker women, collectively light-skinned black women undeniably benefit from colorism. Just as white voices are should not be central in discussions of racism, lighter-skinned black people’s voices ought not to be heard over those of dark-skinned black people.
3. We Can’t Overcome Colorism By Just “Loving Ourselves” (Colorism Is A Bigger Problem Than Our Self Esteem)
Nobody will deny that the media can be a toxic place. It bombards us with visual images and verbal messages that inform us and then continually remind us of how we’re not—and will never be—enough. But for dark-skinned women, the media is more than just a little toxic. For us, the media is more like an abusive partner we can't seem to get rid of. It’s not something that we can simply ignore by just “loving ourselves” or getting self-esteem. We have to sift through and disregard the many daily signals that seek to tear us down and let us know that our skin and features (basically our very essence) aren't good enough.
Not only are we not good enough, but we're ugly, offensive and masculine. And these are the messages that we receive from tv shows, books, the news, and even family, friends, and romantic partners. So yes, if you have a dark-skinned daughter, you need to actively work towards building her self-esteem and sense of pride in her skin tone. But more importantly, we need to build a safer community and environment for dark-skinned women and girls. Simply loving ourselves shouldn't feel like an act of war. It's society that needs to do much better.
4. You Are Probably Colorist
This one is going to be a little controversial, but it needs to be said nonetheless. Unless you’re actively working to rid yourself of the anti-black and anti-dark skin biases that the media bombards us with from birth, you’re probably colorist. Yes, you. Even if your best friend is a dark-skinned black woman. Even if you have a dating preference for dark-skinned black women. Although many people claim not to be colorist, we still live in a deeply colorist society. So if nobody is colorist, then how is colorism still being perpetuated on a daily basis?
The truth is, colorism is extremely pervasive and you don't have to beat yourself up for being vulnerable to its influence. Simply acknowledge that you've contributed to colorism and begin to work hard to undo the prejudices that have been ingrained in you. Just as darker-hued black women need to work hard to overcome our self-hate, the greater society needs to work toward undoing their prejudices towards us. Only then, will colorism truly begin to lose its power.
5. Colorism Affects Our Wallets
According to a 2013 study from Atlanta University Center, colorism deeply affects the lives of darker-skinned black women. The studies empirical data reveals that women with light skin “experience greater success in relationships, education and employment”. This means that we’re less likely to receive job opportunities (particularly in the entertainment industry) and marriage rates are significantly lower for darker-skinned women than lighter-skinned women. When dark-skinned black women complain about colorism, we’re not just complaining about how desirable we are to men—we’re complaining about the ways in which our livelihoods and social environments are affected on a daily basis.
6. Colorism Has A Negative Impact On Our Mental Health
The aforementioned study also examines the negative impact that colorism has on African-American women’s “social capital and self-esteem”. There is a significant relationship between a woman’s skin complexion and her self-esteem and therefore, yes, topic of colorism is still relevant in the 21st century. Self-esteem is a big component of mental health and low self-esteem can increase your risk of depression, anxiety and other mental illnesses. As a result, it’s vital that society begin to value dark-skinned black women and girls. We need to be represented more positively in the media and our communities need to work hard to undo their colorist biases.
7. We’re Still Working Through Our Self-Hate
I’m a darker-skinned black woman and I’ve perpetuated colorism. Not once, but many times. As a teenager, I gravitated towards and supported lighter-skinned black women and felt superior to other black girls who were darker than me. I hated my skin so much that the realization that I was actually lighter than someone else, made me feel as though I’d accomplished something. Yes, I was dark, but I wasn’t at least I wasn’t as dark as so-and-so. Thankfully, I’ve since developed a much more sophisticated view of myself and the world, and have come to realize that all skin complexions are beautiful. Not only that, but I make an effort to support darker-skinned black women in all that I do now, since we are so marginalized in society.
It’s true that dark-skinned black women have to do a lot of internal and personal work just to be able to function in a colorist society like the one in which we live. But even so, we need to begin to hold ourselves ((and each other) accountable for the ways in which we contribute to colorism ourselves. Our habits of uplifting and living vicariously through lighter-hued women needs to stop. We need to stop worshipping biracial and light-skinned women at our own expense. Woman like Normani and Ryan Destiny (who actually represent dark-skinned black women) should receive the majority of our support, both economically and socially.
Even though the majority of the fault of colorism lies in the hands of society, there is still a responsibility that falls in the hands of dark-skinned women. It’s our job to learn how to love ourselves fiercely in this often toxic, uncaring world. It’s unfair that the societal validation we so deeply crave (and that everybody craves, if we're being honest) will likely not be something we experience collectively in this lifetime. But even so, we can begin to build the foundation for a better world where dark-skinned black women and girls are valued, respected and adored.
Grace is a freelance writer and blogger from Canada. Her work has been featured on HerCampus, 21Ninety, Read Unwritten. She is a voracious reader, a dog-lover and a self-professed pop culture junkie. Her other hobbies include watching sappy romantic comedies, consuming too many strawberry-filled doughnuts and people-watching. Grace currently attends university, where she is working towards a Bachelor of Arts degree in English and Pre-Law.